ALAMEDA – Raiders practices have a soundtrack. Hip-hop typically blared during on-field sessions run by Jack Del Rio, with music designed to sustain intensity.
The backbeat faded once Del Rio left town, but there’s a new sound stimulating work rates.
Jon Gruden’s voice.
That was clear Tuesday afternoon, during his first practice since taking over (a second time) as Raiders head coach. He doesn’t speak nonstop, but can be clearly heard across the field when sending out instructions, critiques or motivational salvos.
Gruden revved up as practice began, just telling his offense how he wants to huddle. It took off from there, but not just with volume. There was substance and purpose, even in a brief window open to the press.
“The energy level he brings is amazing, and somehow he’s consistent with it day in and day out,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “That’s impressive. It’s fun, and I think we’ll feed off of that. That’s part of the reason why we were successful today and our tempo was good. He’s bringing the energy, and it feeds down to us.”
Motivation isn’t the only goal. He’s often testing his charges, as he did to quarterback Derek Carr on Tuesday.
“We tried to give him some audibles and different situations on the very first day,” Gruden said. “He was all over it…Derek didn’t blink.”
Carr has only possessed Gruden’s playbook a few weeks now, but Gruden was testing his field general to see how much he learned and retained.
“He tried to get me, to see if I was listening to him in the meetings,” Carr said. “We had a lot of fun out there. It’s fun to accept his challenge, do well and then wink at him or something like that. We have fun together because we know we have the same goal in mind. We’re putting the ship in the water and then we want to hit this thing running.”
Carr passed with flying colors. Count Gruden among the impressed.
“I got really excited out there. You can have a really creative imagination out there with that guy as your quarterback,” Gruden said. “He can make every throw. The ball comes out fast, and he’s accurate. He’s mobile. He’s sharp. He’s a great leader.”
The first of three minicamp practices was a pop quiz of sorts. He wanted things run at a moderate pace, to see how players reacted under some stress.
Gruden’s volume and intensity wasn’t the only new addition. The Raiders have added to large video boards to the practice field, allowing players to review practice reps right after they happen. Gruden said he took the idea from Jim Harbaugh, who uses video boards at the University Michigan. The Miami Dolphins took them from the Wolverines, and Gruden saw them while broadcasting for ESPN. That’s an example of how Gruden’s recent past shapes how he’ll coach nine years after his previous stint.
It had been a long time since Gruden ran a practice, and the moment, however insignificant in the grand scheme, was not lost on him.
“I came back to coach,” Gruden said. “I’m excited to be here. I take it as a serious responsibility, and the practice field has always been a laboratory for a coach. That’s where we earn our pay. We have to develop this team. We have to learn a lot about them quickly. We have a lot of things to teach, and a lot of areas to improve. It was fun to be out there, but I don’t want to get too deep or philosophical about it. I might start crying.
Laughter followed that last line, which he has used in various forms since his last coaching stint. Gruden was comfortable back in his element, excited to be coaching the Raiders again with his own unique style.